Daily transition challenges

Daily transition challenges

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For the next few weeks, I am going to share some of the content of our Transition Guide which will be available to buy as a digital copy in a few weeks’ time. Let’s look briefly at daily transitions today.

Whatever the scale or complexity of the transition the most important factor is to consider the situation from the perspective of the pupil, taking account of their strengths, difficulties, and past experiences’. (Autism Toolbox 2009).

For some children and young people every day is full of huge hurdles they must overcome in terms of moving from one place or state to another. Waking up, getting out of bed, having breakfast, and leaving the house. Coming into school, changing activities, moving to free time, lunch times, going home, having tea, bedtime routines, going to sleep. Then the whole thing starts again.

There are so many challenges for vulnerable children and young people around transitions. If there are special needs present as well, such as Autism or ADHD, then of course there are even more challenges to face in those daily changes.

When we are thinking about any type of transition it’s important to think about the three stages – before, during and after.

We tend to concentrate on one more than the others, but each stage is important to prepare young people, but also to help them to be aware of what might be happening for them during the process. Afterwards is a good time to reflect on what’s happened so that they can learn how to regulate themselves in the future.

Before any transition:

Preparation is incredibly important in any transition. Without careful preparation the following can happen:-

  • High levels of anxiety
  • Refusal and non-compliance
  • Dissociation
  • Regression
  • Increase in challenging behaviour
  • Loss of trust
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Breakdown in communication


However, if preparation is good and attention is paid to the impact of any change for a child then the following can happen as a result:-

  • Build-up of trust
  • Build-up of confidence and self-worth
  • Reduced levels of anxiety
  • Routines and familiarity develop which helps children feel safe
  • Communication is open
  • The next change becomes easier


Unfortunately, I have heard many stories of children not being prepared well enough before a transition and it has totally broken down the relationships and created anxiety and mistrust. We must keep foremost in our minds the importance of children feeling safe in their environments. If they do not, then they will remain in survival mode and will not be able to settle to learn.

During the transition:

Once a change is in progress, we can feel that support is not needed any more. The child may appear to be coping and engaged in the new activity. However, for many children from trauma backgrounds they need adults close to help them to regulate and contain any feelings they may have. It doesn’t necessarily need to be close contact as in one-to-one support, but an acknowledgement that an adult is still available and noticing how the child is handling the change.

Creating a space for the children to process the change and how they feel is important too. That might be a quick connection through a smile, high five or brief conversation. It’s like having a vase that holds water. It just contains the water, so it doesn’t spill anywhere, but the water is free to move around inside the vase.

After the transition:

Make sure afterwards that there is time and attention given to closure. That may be a gesture of closing the book and “wow that was a great ending to a wonderful story, wasn’t it? What do you think might have happened next?”. Instead of closing the book and moving onto the next activity, allow the child to reflect and process for a few moments.

Phrases you might use at the end or after an activity….

“What an amazing drawing, tomorrow we can see if we could add more to that – what do you think?”.

“Wow you looked so relaxed doing that task, I wonder how that made you feel”.

“That was a bit tricky, wasn’t it? Next time let’s try a different way of doing that, I’ll have a think about what we can do for next time”.

The before, during and after principle is a great way of thinking through how you might approach transitions in general. In our training guide we have provided an example of a table that could help you to plan those three stages.

For any daily transition here is a template of a strategy to lead the child through that change. This uses the analogy of the child being on their own little train when doing an activity. They are going in a certain direction and to get them off their train and onto yours (the next activity you want them to do) it can be incredibly difficult. You need to get on their train with them to help them move to yours.

This is a 10-step strategy developed by Kathy Whitham (Parenting Beyond Words): –

  1. Give a 10-minute warning. “In 10 minutes, it will be time to……please begin to finish what you are doing. I’ll be back in 5 minutes”.
  2. Stop talking. If the child argues or ignores you or says no exhale a few breaths and calmly walk away. You can say “hmm” or “I hear you” if you want to, but DON’T ENGAGE. Don’t take the bait, stop, and breathe.
  3. Set your timer for 5 minutes.
  4. Return after 5 minutes and get involved with the activity they are doing. Join in their activity or just sit by them. After a pause say “we have 5 minutes together to finish doing……. before (whatever you want them to do next) …. Breathe and be as present as you can for those 5 minutes.
  5. Set a visual timer for 5 minutes where you can both see it.
  6. PAUSE AND READ number 4 again. It cannot be expressed enough how profoundly different it is to BE with a child during a transition than to try to get the child off their moving train and onto your train.
  7. Talk less, breathe more and enjoy the next 5 minutes with the child like it’s special time you’ve been longing for.
  8. Gently slow down the “train” in the last minute or so as you help the child complete their activity if they need to.
  9. Get off the train WITH the child when the timer goes off – “it’s time to ……. now”.
  10. Together, move towards the next activity. Do this in a fun way counting steps or engaging them in a story as you move.


I hope this helps in whatever transition challenge you may have this week, as we come back from the Easter break. More to come next week….

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